He’s 12 Years Old, Not the Next Tom Brady
Posted by Dean Holden at March 8th, 2015
by Nancy Armour, 25 February 2015
Craig Bryden, right, says he is trying to help his son, Daron, achieve his goal of being a Division I and NFL quarterback. (Photo: Craig Bryden)
His profile on a top recruiting website touts him as a “pro-style quarterback.” His blog breathlessly recounts his accomplishments and the rave reviews of those who’ve seen him play.
All-American. MVP. “Future Tom Brady in action!” “Daron is the man fa real. Accurate, good technique, can take a hit.” “Daron is my fav QB in the nation.”
Impressive accolades if Daron Bryden is a top college prospect — but he’s a sixth-grader. A 5-2, 105-pound wisp of a kid whose only concern at this age should be where to have his next birthday party, not trying to impress scouts and coaches for a scholarship or career that might or might not materialize.
“It’s ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous,” said Trent Petrie, director of the University of North Texas Center for Sport Psychology and Performance Excellence. “It sends the wrong message at that age, to both the child and the parent.”
Yet Daron is hardly unique. In every sport, in every community, youth sports for some families have become a junior farm system with travel teams, single-sport specialization and heightened expectations that no kid should have to shoulder before he gets his driver’s license.
The recent decision by Rivals.com to run profiles of Daron and fellow sixth-grader Tyson Thornton sparked a firestorm about how young is too young to treat kids like pros in the making. While Daron and Tyson aren’t being rated as college prospects — yet — their profiles and Rivals’ announcement that it would “monitor” their development puts the pre-teens under a national microscope.
And for what? For every Tiger Woods, Serena Williams or Sidney Crosby, there are thousands of would-be phenoms who, be it because of injuries, burnout or plain old genetics, are washed up or passed by before their 18th birthday.
Get in line here if you want to blame the media, but this was far from an overzealous recruiting site intruding on the privacy of a promising young athlete. A tour around the family’s website promoting Daron’s athletic achievements shows the publicity is welcome.
“Recruiting today has drastically changed from the recruiting of years past,” his father, Craig Bryden, wrote in an e-mail to USA TODAY Sports. “Talent is being identified and sometimes even offered as early as eighth and ninth grade.
“This is Daron’s dream to be a (Division) 1 quarterback and play in the NFL and he works extremely hard at it, while maintaining good grades and being a great kid and big brother, so my wife and I will do whatever we can to help him reach his dream,”
It’s easy for Bryden — other parents, too, because he’s not the only one — to say this is what his kid wants, that he lives, breathes and eats soccer or football or baseball or whatever the sport might be. That’s called being a kid.
But part of being a parent is setting limits and maintaining a balance so children will learn that their worth is determined by who they are rather than what they are.
Sports psychologists are troubled by the added pressure of too much, too soon.
“Kids aren’t miniature adults, even though they may look like it,” said Dan Gould, a sports psychologist and the director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State.
“It’s real easy to lose your childhood when you get caught up in all this.”
PRO DADS SPEAK
© Annette Grant, PTPM Designs
Elite athletes know the work it takes to make it big in pro sports, but those who also are fathers don’t see the value of trying to make mini-professionals out of kids.
Mike Miller, who is in his 15th season in the NBA, also has a son in the sixth grade, and the Cleveland Cavaliers guard spent his All-Star break going to youth basketball tournaments. His view of ranking or predicting player’s future success before he is in high school?
“They’re still building a foundation,” Miller said. “You have no idea at that age how they’re going to grow.”
LeBron James Jr. accompanies his dad after LeBron James won the NBA MVP Award in May 2013. LeBron Jr. is now 10. (Photo: Steve Mitchell, USA TODAY Sports)
Miller’s iconic teammate, LeBron James, grew up with the eyes of the country fixed on him, and he became the rare youth phenom who met lofty expectations and became a global superstar. Now James is starting to see a similar fascination with his oldest son, LeBron James Jr,. Videos of the 10-year-old are splashed across YouTube, and at least one college coach, Ohio State’s Thad Matta, has said LeBron Jr. is on his radar.
James praises his son’s talent and potential, but he is quick to put it in perspective.
“I love to see my son play,” James told USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt. “As far as rankings, as a parent, those don’t mean anything. It means absolutely nothing. It’s not like you’re going to be drafted out of sixth grade.
“I love seeing him out there playing because he loves the game,” James added, “and it’s great to build friendships and hang around people who have some of the same drive.”
SPORTS BEAUTY PAGEANTS?
There always have been prodigies, kids with otherworldly talent and parents whose devotion to their development was more like an obsession. Some of the stories might have raised eyebrows, but most seemed harmless enough in an, “Awww, isn’t that cute” manner.
Somewhere along the way, the game changed.
Now an eighth-grader getting a scholarship offer is not an oddity but the goal. There are power rankings for fifth-grade girls AAU teams, and there are travel teams for 7-year-olds. Families shell out thousands of dollars a year for camps, tournaments and individual coaching, their weekends and summer vacations a blur of games and practices.
Craig Bryden said he and his wife spend about $2,000 a year just to send Daron to football camps. Daron also works with a quarterbacks coach once a month and, depending on his dad’s schedule, he and his father work out together four to five times a week.
I’ve always thought of youth sports as a great way to teach youngsters the value of hard work and cooperation — along with keeping them active and occupied.
Now they’re no better than those childhood beauty pageants.
Go ahead and recoil at the comparison. But swap the sequins and sashes for shin guards and shoulder pads, and how is Honey Boo Boo any different from a kid traveling the country for combines and tournaments five, six, even seven years before he or she can accept a college scholarship, if one is offered?
“It’s certainly not being done to the benefit of the kids. This kind of thing is in the interest of everyone but the kids,” said Mark Hyman, an assistant professor at George Washington’s sports management program and author of several books on the dysfunction of youth sports.
“If you were reinventing youth sports with the interest of kids as your paramount consideration, this would not occur.”
But that’s the sad side of youth sports these days: To some, it’s not about the kids.
It’s about coaches and their relentless pursuit of The Next Big Thing. It’s about those parents who are either living vicariously through their children or are fearful that not keeping up with the Joneses will cost their kids down the road. It’s about the recruiting services and camps that see kids as little more than commodities, marketable “content” to insatiable fans whose happiness seems tied to whether their favorite school is landing the players atop the rankings.
Treating kids as if they’re on the fast track to a scholarship or the pros won’t make it a reality any more than buying a Powerball ticket will make you a millionaire. If they’re as gifted as you think they are at 9 or 12, that will still be the case when they’re 16.
What’s the harm in letting kids be kids for a little while longer? It doesn’t cost anything. In fact, it’s priceless.